John Oliver Killens Table

John Oliver Killens Table


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John Oliver Killens Table

Novelist, Harlem Guild Writer



Books by John Oliver Killens


Youngblood  /  And Then We Heard the Thunder  /  The Cotillion  /  The Great Black Russian


A Man-Aint-Nothin But A Man Adventures of John Henry  /  Slaves  / Sippi A Novel Black-SouthernVoices: An Anthology 


Great-Gittin-Up-Morning: A Biography of Denmark Vesey The Black Man’s Burden


Keith Gilyard, Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric and Poetics of John Oliver Killens (2003)


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Bio Sketch

John Oliver Killens (January 14,1916–October 27, 1987), born in Macon, Georgia, to Charles Myles, Sr., and Willie Lee (Coleman) Killens. John Killens credits his relatives with fostering in him cultural pride and literary values. His father Charles encouraged him to read a weekly column by Langston Hughes; his mother Willie Lee, president of the Dunbar Literary Club, introduced him to poetry; and his great-grandmother filled his boyhood with the hardships and tales of slavery. More Bio

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The Cotillion, Alexs Pate writes in his introduction to the new Coffee House Press edition of the novel, “was written for the black reader of the Black Power era” (Pate, The Cotillion, XI). As such, the material herein might seem dated, relegated to the year, 1968, in which it was written. Pate goes on to write that Killens “was at the forefront of delineating the details of what it meant to be a black writer in the Black Arts Movement” (XIII). Coal Charcoal and Chocolate Comedy

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Now, lest the wrong impression be given, there were always some Southern Negroes who had no need to be defensive, had no good white folks to speak of, and always spoke their minds and told it like it was. One of them told me a fantastic (true) story about a young man who had come back from the second World-Wide Madness, and built up a promising vegetable trucking business. He was married and had a couple of children, and through industry and faith in free enterprise had built up a fairly successful business. DownSouth, UpSouth

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I have to stop and thank Louis too for his insight and support. He sort of inspired me to write Liberation Memories.  Louis knew and was vocal about the fact that John had been underappreciated in critical circles.  Only a few people—like Addison Gayle and William Wiggins, Jr.—tried to do him justice in the scholarly literature. But even they missed articulating some of the richness of John’s writings. And Arthur Flowers is a good friend of mine—and present-day underappreciated novelist and Killens protégé. Interview with Keith Gilyard

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Coal, Charcoal, and Chocolate Comedy  (Keenan Norris)

DownSouth, UpSouth

Globalizing the South

Interview with Keith Gilyard

John Oliver Killens Bio

Killens and the Black Man’s Burden

Killens, Fort Bliss, & Korea (Kalamu)

Lest We Forget Killens (Rivera)

Liberation Memories Reviews

Literary Heroes

A Book Party for Keith Gilyard Author of John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism


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Related files

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K-Ville (TV Show Review)

Leonard Peltier: Letter to a Relative

Louis Reyes Rivera Table

Nooses and a legal lynching in Jena, Louisiana  

Revealing Racist Roots: The 3 R’s

Rev. Lennox Yearwood Attacked, Arrested, Hospitalized 

Strange Fruit in Jena 

Thoughts on Jena & the Dirty South

Time To Impeach Bush

YouTube – The Jena Six  


posted 22 September 2007

John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism

By Keith Gilyard

“I congratulate Keith Gilyard for bringing to life, in the pages of this absorbing book, a figure of genuine importance who certainly deserves a full-scale biography.”—Arnold Rampersad, author of Ralph Ellison: A Biography

John Oliver Killens is a genius of the South, and Keith Gilyard has honored this youngblood, civil rights and union activist, novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter in a superb biography. Gilyard’s engaging written voice draws us into a dramatic and important life, and his deep commitment to the highest standards of research inspires our trust and admiration. John Oliver Killens ably documents and brings to life the yearnings and accomplishments of a major figure in our national literature.—Rudolph P. Byrd, Goodrich C. White Professor of American Studies, Emory University

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But just before noon the school ground swarmed with police. They strode into classrooms without even a ‘good morning’ to the teachers and dragged out scared kids, many of them crying. They even dragged them out of the outhouses and snatched them as they tried to flee the school ground. They took some who had been in the ‘riot’ and a number who’d never even heard about it. Somehow they missed yours truly. I felt left out and rejected, insulted even, especially since I was the bosom buddy of the kid who had started it.

Then frightened black mothers were brought down to the jailhouse to whip their children in front of the policemen to teach them not to fight white children. The alternative was the reformatory, though not a single white child was rounded up. Thus they drove the lesson home, the lesson that every black American must learn one way or another: that he has no inalienable right to defend himself from attack by Mister Charlie; that even though he can expect his own black person to be violated at any moment, he must remember better than anything else in this world that the white man’s person is inviolable so far as he is concerned. The cruelest aspect of this story is how they used black mothers to drive this lesson home.  Killens and the Black Man’s Burden

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The ghettoes of the North are as firmly entrenched in the urban centers as they are in any Southern city. They are citadels of black despair, a despair that expresses itself in dope addiction, alcoholism, the numbers racket, school drop-outs, juvenile delinquency, teen-age gang warfare, crime and prostitution, and more positively in occasional riots. It is a curious thing the way most Northern newspapers designated the Harlem rioters as hoodlums, while the rioters on the beaches of New Hampshire and Oregon were merely pranksters, students, high-spirited youngsters. Psychologists were quoted in The New York Times as saying that the young people who ran amuck on the fancy beaches of America last Labor day were in “quest of their identity.” Well, is there a youth who has been more deprived of his identity than the youth of Harlem? I honestly believe, though I say this with all kinds of trepidation, that the Harlem riot was a healthy thing for the country and for Harlem. The wonder is that it took so long for our patience to wear thin. DownSouth, UpSouth’s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011  


#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 4 November 2007





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